Seeking Answers

April 23, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert is given advice by Agent Phillip Coulson, and is also given a degree of investigative homework to do. Takes place before "5739: A Regular John Doe."

The Triskelion - New York City

The Headquarters, Armory and Fortress of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics division is, for the most part, an unassailable tower in the midst of the diplomatic sprawl that is Midtown East. The primary intelligence clearing houses and most of SHIELD's senior leadership are all housed hear, along with a veritable army of agents and staff to keep the place running, the world spinning and the weirdness at bay.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Rusalka Stojespal, Sloane Albright

Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

Inside the Triskelion, there are a number of floors devoted to housing for its own agents. Not everyone has a desire to live in the midst of the city, and for some, it's much safer not to be counted among the city's residents. Greater security is one of the many benefits of accepting SHIELD housing; closeness to one's place of employment is another.

The former is one of the main reasons why Isa Reichert had chosen to live in the tower. It's safe, after her scare with the Winter Soldier; safer than she would be in the miserable hovel she'd dug up in the Bronx.

A note had been sent to Agent Phillip Coulson, inviting him to dinner in the small and modest apartment that Isa Reichert had been issued. It had been penned in Isa's neat, laser-precise Cyrillic; tightly controlled but elegant cursive. It's the kind of handwriting that belongs in the annotations of technical schematics.

When he arrives, he'll be ushered in with a tired wave. Isa is still wearing the sling on her arm, but her outfit is a little more casual; white blouse tucked into beige slacks. Her hair's loose as it always is, eye patch firmly in its place. The wedding band is not on the end of the chain around her neck. It's on her finger where Coulson had placed it after she'd fallen asleep in her Barcelona hospital ward room.

The radio plays soft jazz, possibly an American radio station; the radio itself looks like an antique salvaged from some place or another. The furniture is plain, lending the unit an almost unlived-in quality. Only touches here and there identify it as anything more than the apartment of a temporary resident – a small group of photographs on the mantle and lamps that aren't part of the standard issue furnishings, casting warm light on the apartment.

There are two: One is the normal-sized version of the wedding photo in Mikhail's watch (the chain of which gleams from the pocket of her slacks), one is her final publicity photo, where she's brandishing her ring and laughing at the cameraman from an aircraft's cockpit.

He might notice there are also several deadbolts installed on the door that are not standard hardware. She locks all of them once she's let him in.

"Sit, if you want." She uses English. While it's nice of him to be considerate and use Russian, sometimes that's a two-way street, and she speaks it much better than she usually lets on. "Dinner is cooking. Will be some time before it is ready, I think. Something to drink?" Her brow arches with the question. "Have water, milk, juice… wine, vodka. Tea. Have some coffee, too."

For a moment, Coulson had considered gently redirecting her to the SHIELD cafeteria or to a more public cafe location than her quarters. The appearance of impropriety is an important thing to consider. But finally he decided that exposing her right now would be foolish, and that she wouldn't be able to relax among the other agents. He decided that if people want to assume something is going on that is not, well, there is always talk. And there are ways to downplay the rumors anyway, simply by leaving subtle clues that what is happening here is nothing untoward.

Which is why he allows the helmet-head from his earlier track-ride with Sally to remain in place. He doesn't have a lot of hair to muss, but the effect is just not-date-like enough, not too over the top, like he's trying too hard, but like he got distracted and forgot to comb it out. At some point he took off his tie and unbuttoned that very top button, so he's not working too hard with his appearance there, either. This was already not his best suit.

The antique radio gets his full attention and appreciation. He names the make and model of the thing absently from the moment he arrives, smiling at her. "Good choice."

His eyes fall on the wedding photo, picking out details, noting them, filing them away. It's a sad fact of his work that this is what he does, rather than absorbing the emotional content in particular, other than to just…note the emotional content.

He notes the deadbolts and chooses not to comment. She already said she doesn't trust all of SHIELD's Agents. Whatever makes her feel safe.

He sits, and he appreciates the use of English tonight.

He almost opens his mouth to ask for Vodka. But he's aware of her drinking problem. He's already considering how to manipulate the proud woman into programs that might help her. The wine is almost as bad, so…

"Coffee, please, I'm beat. Is the pain easing up any?"

The radio is pre-war, American-made, and looks like it's been kept in relatively decent condition. There are signs of wear here and there, so she didn't pay top dollar for it, but its components are all in working order. Either she took care of that herself, or she knows someone who could without breaking the bank.

Who knows?

Isa flicks her eye up and down, taking in his rumpled appearance with some skepticism, as though to say, look what the cat dragged in. He really does look like the cat dragged him in, too. What a mess.

But she doesn't comment, instead waving him to the living room. There's a stuffed loveseat and there's a stuffed chair, and he gets his pick of whichever one is more comfortable for him.

Although the photo was the same as the small version that Mikhail had cropped and fixed to the inside of his watch case, this one is much more rich in its details, big enough to see clearly without taking up too much space. There's no mistaking the joy in it; the slightly dorky-looking grin on Mikhail's face, or Raisa laughing, delighted, into the camera and showing off the ring even as her fellow pilot holds her. Her dress is pretty; not too expensive and elegant in its simplicity, just as his suit is likewise modest but appropriate. People of some modest means, but not too much means.

She's watching him even as he watches the photos; as he studies the interior of her Spartan quarters. She's watching for reactions from him, but she knows she won't see any. Phillip Coulson is a masterful actor.

Coulson's hesitation in choosing a drink is noted, but it's such a brief flicker that she could second-guess that. Coffee it is, though, and she retreats into the kitchen to fix a cup. "Da, have coffee. Is not the best coffee, but it will do," she calls, to the living room.

A moment later she returns with coffee, the other in her hand trailing steam – but too fragrant for coffee; some kind of herbal tea. Probably something to soothe nerves. She doesn't yet sit, waiting to see where he'll choose to sit. Is the pain easing up any? Isa wobbles her free hand. "A little. Still hurt sometime. Mostly, is hard to move hand. Still nerve damage; still going to physical therapy." She twists her arm, grimacing slightly as she tries to clench her fingers into a fist. It's a weak effort, her hand visibly shaking, and she shrugs. "Will heal in time. Already it feel better than it was; could not even do that much, few day ago."

Her blue eye lingers on him for a moment, conflicted, as though debating with herself whether to say something or not. Part of her wants to ask if his sleuthing has yielded any results, but surely he'd tell her if he'd found anything out.

"Find anything in investigation yet…?"

On the other hand, she's been grounded for days; that and worry over Mikhail is chewing her up from the inside. Her self-restraint in that regard is at somewhat of a low point.

Phil takes the more proper choice: the chair. He pretends not to see her reaction to his general appearance. If she reacts that way, it means it's working.

"I'm not a coffee snob," he assures her with one of those little smiles. "I've had plenty of cause to drink gas station swill out of styrofoam cups, and like it, too."

He watches her hesitation.

He knows precisely what's coming next.

Fortunately, he has one or two things to give her.

"We never caught the sniper, but he left a trail. He seems to be working for private interests. Right now we're working our way through shell corporations and other such nonsense, but a private company hired someone to shoot at you, which is interesting to say the least. It wasn't the Russian government, though the company may have its origins in Russia, or near them. We're still working on that."

He frowns, drumming his fingers against the side of his coffee cup once it's in his hand. It makes a slow tink-tink sound. "When I look at the patterns I see three competing and intersecting organizations, not one, but… this is more experience and gut talking. I don't have hard evidence. Other than: Russia also quickly intervened to make it awfully difficult to learn about his quote-unquote death, so they're probably still one of them. I have my suspicions about the third, but it's best not to jump to conclusions about them. If a certain person of interest is involved with the private company in the end, then I'll have my answer. I see some of his fingerprints."

He gives her a little smile. "And that's all I'm telling you tonight, because it's all speculation and shadows. I've got excellent teams on it now, obviously your husband is in the eye of a very big hurricane, which means I can get more and better people on it."

Isa settles on one side of the loveseat, drawing her knees up to her chest, scarred right hand carefully gripping the mug. Her head tilts as she considers the information he gives her, and she considers it carefully as she sips at the mug of herbal tea. If Coulson knows his herbs by scent, he'd know that she's drinking some grocery store blend meant to calm the nerves.

Slowly, her expression gives way to a frown; not difficult with her disfigurement. The scarring makes her look like she's frowning even when she isn't.

"Private interest." She repeats the phrase with some skepticism, but she has no reason to doubt the intelligence supplied to Coulson. He's too discerning an agent. If he had any doubt of its veracity he wouldn't pass it on to her. "Why would private company shoot at me?" Isa frowns even more, tilting her head, red hair spilling over her shoulder. Or… "Could have been aiming for him, maybe?" Maybe she was a target of opportunity, if it were somone familiar with Mikhail and his personal connections.

But there have been few coincidences in her life; fewer still since coming here to the city and speaking with key individuals. There are no such things as coincidences.

Truth rings in that statement when he says that there are three potential players in this game; that his own country was involved somehow. That's not really very surprising to her. She considers what he says with that same thoughtful frown. "A certain someone…?" The question is more rhetorical. She doesn't expect a real answer.

"Hm." It's a thoughtful sound, soft. "Thank you for that. I wonder what he has gotten himself into, though. <Ah, Misha; so troublesome. Who have you managed to piss off…?>"

"Some major corporations are as ruthless as any nation," Phil points out mildly.

He does not, in fact, know his herbs by scent – that is one skill that has escaped him, one that was not covered anywhere in his training or experience. To him, it is just tea. "Just wait till you have cause to get a debriefing about Roxxon. A lot of them have private mercenary armies, and they certainly have more than enough money to hire private assassins."

Why shoot at her?

"A warning. To punish him. To encourage him to do what they want them to do. He said you weren't safe if you were anywhere near him, even in the same country. And here's reality."

He folds both his hands around his coffee cup and looks at her. Grim. Sober.

"They wouldn't have wept if that had hit you. But that was a cut rate assassination. Laser sighting like that is amateur stuff. You never see a decent sniper coming. If they were really ready to pull out all the stops, our first sign that something was amiss might have been the messy removal of your head. It was meant to be dramatic. The sniper has been good enough to evade us, so he's not an idiot."

Dark things, to tell the already rattled pilot, but she is one who is soothed by truth and detail, not by comforting lies.

"Da, sometime they can be cutthroat." Isa inhales the fragrant steam from her cup, single eye hooded. "Could be more than cutthroat, in Russia. They try to make State look bad, maybe do thing more efficiently, then they play dangerous game. If third player is private corporation like you say, has something maybe to do with aerospace. Maybe."

She reaches up to rub at the scarred side of her jaw, scrubbing the heel of her hand against it. The scars match from jaw through to hand; suggestive of defensive wounds, as though she had tried to shield her face from the worst of it and failed. The gesture is thoughtful.

"To keep his obedience." That makes perfect sense. If she were in their shoes and needed some kind of incentive, that would be ruthless but brutally efficient leverage to pull on. "Which maybe explain why he ran, even when he knew shot must have been aimed at me. To keep me safe."

She frowns around her mug. "Oh, Misha. Must be some kind of nightmare he is trapped in, da? Hope only that we can get him out, soon… and I have his watch. For all I know, is only reminder he had of me, with him…" Oops. Nice going. She sighs, wearily. "Have long road ahead of us both. May not survive that road. But we will try."

"Phillip Coulson." Isa raises her eye, settling her gaze on the agent. Her expression is one of worry. "Want you to try to arrange meeting with him, once you track him down again. Make it seem like me. Am not sure how to do this myself, or would; but if I talk to him, maybe, reassure him SHIELD can offer him safety… can maybe convince him to come to us peaceably. Umyshlyenno; what is word… willfully." She gestures as though to mimic two planes crisscrossing the globe. "Instead of chasing him all over Europe; all over New York."

Maybe. Her husband seems even more acutely paranoid than she is, though, and it's an ache in her heart all over again; the pain he must be going through. Just imagining what he must be going through is enough to hurt.

"I think someplace public. Place where building aren't so close. Central Park, maybe? Unless you know something better… some place where maybe too hard for sniper to set up shop again." Isa pulls a scowl. "But I agree on that. Was warning. For him, I think. Or maybe for you. 'Don't get involved,' da? You think?"

Another sip of tea, and she cocks her eye at him again, quirking her brow. "Only idiot was me. Should not have gone." She sighs, shaking her head. "Might have maybe convince him to come in peacefully, alone, I think. Whoever keeping tab on him, they know him. His life. They know me. Don't want to stay off case… but will, if you say to do so." Her head shakes. "Can't fly anyway. Few day more, maybe. When I have strength back in hand. Enough to hold flight stick. Right now, can't fly if have to use flight stick and throttle at same time." She mimics reaching out with her left hand and handling a throttle's lever with her right, but the motion is abbreviated by the sling over her arm. "Not enough strength to hold anything." Yet. She plans on getting it back. The doctors had been optimistic in their prognosis.

She reaches up with her right hand, absently tugging on her upper lip and frowning again. "Has to be some way to convince him. Could maybe stay off case if needed, but… could also maybe convince him myself, if there is opportunity to talk to him." She leans her head back and sighs. "Too many variable. And too little information…"

"I am frightened, Phillip Coulson," she breathes, but she sounds more weary than frightened. "Not for me, but for him."

He listens carefully as she spins off plans and suggestions. In a way this is not about her coming up with a specific plan at all, he knows. This is about her feeling like she needs to do something about this situation. She seems to have forgotten they already spun the theory about her apartment, and that is his tip-off. This is all agitation.

So he doesn't address the specific plans, the requests, the need for her to get involved in how contact will be made. In truth, predicting that is difficult. He's having the apartment watched. Until he makes contact, there is little that can be done, other than to try to unravel the threads that are being left behind in the wake of all of this activity. Neither does he speculate on whether the warning was for him. The warning was delivered.

"It's natural to be frightened," he says at last, taking another sip of his coffee. "You just can't let it lead you to running around in circles. I'll keep you advised on what the plan is."

That's it. He won't go round and round with her on what it should be, or how it should unfold. He doesn't even know it himself yet.

He decides to share some insight instead.

"This kind of work is like sailing a boat. You can't really move until a wind starts up. And then you move with the wind. If you try to make too many plans, if you try to speculate too much, you'll miss the wind, and you'll be disappointed, because you'll plan for one that was never there. Rest assured that we will do everything in our power to get your husband safely home, and I will make sure you play whatever role at whatever time is most condusive to making that happen."

Most of it seems to be the product of anxiety, rather than any sense of foresight. Even the pilot seems to recognise this, as her theories slow down; then, gradually, she draws to her exhausted and frightened conclusion.

It's hard for her to give up control. As someone who lives to be in control, whose very existence depends on it in the air, it's difficult for her to relinquish that control. It goes against every instinct of hers. It would be like letting go of the stick, releasing the throttle and aileron pedals, and letting the aircraft fly itself. The only thing that would accomplish is a long drop and a sudden stop. Also probably a really big fireball.

Isa only shakes her head mutely to his nonchalant assessment of her fears. That single blue eye drops to her tea, which she absently swills around in her hand.

"Da. I know. Is mostly waiting. But the waiting, that is hardest part, I think." Isa takes another sip of her tea, wrapping her fingers more securely around the mug, letting the warmth seep into them. "Not knowing whether he is alright, or even alive… especially after thinking he was dead for so many years. Is like…" She looks down, absently flexing the fingers of her left hand. They twitch unsteadily, not quite forming a fist. "Is like torture."

"Can only imagine what my Misha must be going through." The pilot actually shudders. "Oh, God, the pain he must be going through. If he is caught truly between three different groups… even choosing somewhere to go, even that simple thing must be torment for him right now."

Her brow furrows. "But what did he do, I wonder? Another mystery to solve. Am getting tired of mysteries. Too many piece we don't know…"

Isa cocks a red-rimmed blue eye at mention of sailing. So basically, what he's saying is to wing it, in the most literal sense.

"Is like flying blind, da. No chance of plotting course. Can only fly, can only follow what you feel. You fight wind and weather, will only put yourself in danger… have done that before; have had instrument fail me. When I had both eye," she adds, cradling her mug with her left hand to point at her eyepatch. "Was not fun. But can be done. Just require patience."

She blows out a sigh, pulling a scowl. "Was never good at patience. Probably obvious, I guess…"

Phil is content to listen to her. As with the hospital bed, it's becoming clear that she needs a sounding board, doesn't want to be alone. He can't offer her any real words of comfort. He even understands the feeling of torture; from time to time in his life he has actually known love, and sometimes those loves have been threatened and endangered by the life he has chosen to live. Sometimes there was little more to do but wait, grim-faced, for resolution.

He is just keeping all of his silent attention on her, occasionally sipping his coffee, letting her speak, letting her have his silent presence, looking compassionate as she shares her fears. He has learned that words are not always the biggest comfort anyway, nor promises. When she gives the flying analogy he smiles, slightly. There was a reason he chose boats. He'd been hoping she'd go straight to one she'd understand and know better.

She says it's probably obvious she's not good at patience.

"Just a bit," he says, but it's a mild, gentle tease.

He stands up to pour himself another cup of coffee, not wanting to push her into getting up and serving him.

He comes to a decision.

"I'm going to give you some data and reports to go through," he says. "Perhaps you'll see something we didn't."

It strikes him as rather unlikely but stranger things have happened; and she does know her own husband. There might be something. And it would give her something to do, an outlet for all her restless energy.

Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva has been alone for far too long. Those people closest to her have all passed away a long time ago, and even in her branch of service her acquaintances had never been much more than acquaintances. After her own accident, the men had stopped trying to comfort her.

Most likely, she figured, they were trying not to comfort her but to court her, and once she passed through the fire, they lost all interest in it. She was no more than human wreckage in the months immediately after her aircraft plunged from the sky.

After that, though, she hadn't had much of anyone close to her. No family to turn to, at least none close enough to be symapthetic, and no real friends to speak of. She'd always been something of a loner when her husband had still been alive. She hadn't needed anyone else.

Now, though… now she's beginning to feel how alone she really is, in meeting Coulson, and in meeting Albright and Stojespal, in particular the latter. Rusalka may be young, but she's sharp, and she understands the kind of life that Raisa has had to lead – even if she may not yet know the details.

Somehow Isa thinks she would understand, though; and it would truly be understanding, and not pity. She can't abide pity. One of her own superiors had looked at her that way, once upon a time, right after her accident. That simple expression the man had betrayed had been enough to send her into a livid rage. Laid up in a hospital bed, though, she had been helpless to even speak.

Small wonder she fell into a bottle after she failed to convince her superiors that she could do the job. There was nothing left for her to fall back on; no support system whatsoever. All that lay before her was a bleak future, and all the good things had been neatly and tidily culled from her life.

In review, it's no wonder it might have seemed like a surgical strike.

I'm going to give you some data and reports to go through, he tells her, and she looks to him, expression one of a woman scarcely able to dare to hope. Perhaps you'll see something we didn't.

"That is my hope." Isa frowns, thoughtfully, settling some with the soothing herbal tea and Coulson's unique brand of silent support. "Can maybe find pattern in where he is going, if you have that information based on where he has been. I know my Misha. Maybe I don't know what has put him into situation he is in now… but maybe can help you to anticipate where he may go next. Why he may do what he does." The pilot shrugs helplessly. "Is all I can do, right now. So. I will do it, and I thank you for opportunity to do so."

If it can help to navigate him safely through this horrific gauntlet of secrets and lies, if it can bring some small percentage of success at getting him home alive and safe, then she's willing to do whatever it takes.

She exhales, setting her cup aside. "Thank you. I am sorry to be so…" Her scarred hand gestures vaguely, wedding band glinting in the lamplight, and she sighs unhappily. "Unsettled. Emotional."

"Maybe soon, we have some kind of good news, da? But… thank you. For everything." Pushing herself up to her feet, perhaps sensing he's said all she can, and that she's done much the same, she'll hold the door open for Coulson when he's ready to leave. She'll offer a somewhat melancholy half-smile. "Stay safe. Will hopefully be piloting for you again soon. Once I am stronger."

"Good evening, Phillip Coulson. And thank you. Come any time," she adds, gesturing loosely to indicate the apartment. "It is not as though I will be anywhere else."

She'll close the door after him with a quiet click, followed by several more clicks as she secures the deadbolts.

After he's left, she passes by the mantle, pausing to eye the wedding photo and exhale a short, sharp sigh. "<I will bring you home, Misha,>" she vows quietly, reaching out to touch the glass. "<SHIELD and I, together.>"

With that soft vow, she returns to tidying up, this time with a fresh resolve.

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